Bean Blossom and Great Folks in Bluegrass - Part 3
Sometime in the hottest part of the day on Saturday along comes big tall mandolin-playing Danny Jones with a giant hunk of an icecold watermelon and big ole white-handled knife sticking up out of it. Like some fancy chef he grabs that melon and carves off a big hunk of the juiciest melon you can imagine and proffers it to me by knifepoint. (I'm thinking well, this sure is country! and I love it) Mmmmm, mmmm...bet y'all can taste it, right? It wasn't a minute before Melvin Goins hops up from his nearby record table and ambles over to us and gets his hand right out there for a hunk of melon. Now you know this all leads to a discussion about the finer points of watermelons and the best watermelons each of us have ever had and all kinds of things like that (I once stopped over at Leroy Troy's house and his daddy Wallace asked me if I wanted some nice cold watermelon so I said "sure" thinking he'd bring out a piece of it for me -- and he brought out about a 12 quart metal bowl full of it and said, "here, eat all that" and I did my best....and peed for about 2 weeks straight. But anyway at that moment in time I can say that Danny's watermelon, despite the hazardous knife, was the best I ever had.
Well now I'll get to the part about what wonderful folks I seem to find at every single bluegrass festival I've ever been to...
This Japanese couple, Mr. and Mrs. Niida, were the nicest folks to sit next to. They were sitting in webbed chairs that Jim Peva had lent them. I'd met him a couple years ago (or more) at Bean Blossom when Jim Peva introduced us. His enthusiasm for the music and the musicians themselves was so....well, cute! I've known quite a lot of Japanese folks in my life and the ones I'd known were not apt to wear their hearts on their sleeves or give much indication of intense emotion. Not so Mr. Niida! He especially impressed me after a Gillis Brothers set when he came literally RUNNING backstage, stopping at the foot of the long set of stairs to the backstage literally trembling with anticipation as he eagerly awaited the descent of the Gillis Brothers after their show, seeking a word and an autograph. I was up at the top of the steps waiting to shoot some photos of the Brothers and I motioned Mr. Niida up the stairs. He looked so surprised and pointed at himself with a question in his eyes so I shook my head yes, yes, and beckoned him to hurry. Well, he's in his 70s and small and very nimble and it seemed like he was up all those steps in half a wink of an eye and went sort of running toward the Gillis' (some of you will remember the Gillis Factor from past years) boys as they put a dip or whatever in their cheeks and sort of stood there. I'll admit I wouldn't consider even _thinking_ of running toward the Gillis' - those are some _country_ boys and no tellin' what they might do in self-defense, you know, 'specially Larry. So I kind of stepped in and introduced Mr. Niida to Larry and John and Niida took me by surprise when he rushed toward one of them (I disremember which) and like threw his arms around him and (language barrier here) shouted "I love you!" Pretty funny, but such was the intensity he felt from their soulful mountain sound. Luckily the Gillis seemed to take it all in stride and sort of chuckle (maybe they are in touch with their feminine side after all) and let it slide, and Niida was thrilled to meet these guys and express his appreciation for their wonderful music.
Well I will always remember that Gillis moment and Mr. Niida's huge part in it, so despite a horrible inability to remember anything at all, I always remember him very fondly. So I was thrilled to find my seat right next to the Niidas on the front row and we shared many happy comments over the four days of the festival. Niida busied himself with hearing all the bands and running up to get autographs and chat with the performers after their shows, buying books and CDs and so forth.
Throughout the days of the festival I again thought about what a wonderful bunch of people had gathered there to celebrate Monroe's memory and walk the paths of Bean Blossom as Monroe so often did. How so many folks paid homage to his music in tune and song, and remembered favorite encounters with the man himself in those years way back when. 'Course there was the usual recollection of Birch Monroe's frugal ways and the mules that Monroe was so proud to drive around and all sorts of things like that. One night as darkness fell (can't remember who was onstage) during a pause in the stage patter about 20 or 30 Canadian geese honked their way across the brilliant sky and that was a moment I shall remember, too. Just all around acts of kindness and consideration were commonplace and new folks walked up and introduced themselves (nice to meet you, Lowell!) and old friends came up to share a memory or pass on some good news. Backstage members of different bands mingled and laughed quietly, or stepped in to add a fiddle part to an impromptu jam. One of the best of those was backstage on Saturday when Cia, Skip and BJ Cherryholmes were having a ball picking with Glenn Harrell (fiddler) and Cia started singing a rousing Sally Ann which morphed into "Oh My Darlin' Clementine" then "Oh Susanna" and so on...they were totally cracking up and having a big time messing around with all those old songs. Then it kind of slid into some progressive jazzy stuff and then Daddy comes strutting in with his muscle shirt, big beard and tattoos and mock yells at Harrell, "Didn't you see the sign on the door?? Says "entertainers only." Harrell quickly quips, "I'm entertainin' myself," looking up with that big smile and those gorgeous blue eyes that I remember a whole bunch of redneck older women at Poppy Mountain a few years back were flat flippin' out over.
Sometime in the late afternoon I got to chat a bit with Ralph and hear about how his family were doing and things like that and Mr. D (that's Dwight Dillman's daddy) and I went over with Ralph to the bus and Ralph was really hospitable and we all just sat around and talked quietly. Some of the band members entered the bus and joined in with us and it was just such a pleasant way to spend a few minutes. I went on up to the book table to check on Judy and Leon and Bobby Osborne was up onstage when I heard him saying something about a "medical emergency." I said a quick prayer for whoever was in trouble and maybe about 15 minutes later went on down to the stage because Ralph was due to come on just any minute. Passing backstage on the deck that looks out over the bands' tour busses, I happened to see a whole bunch of folks crouching down around someone on the ground, and Mrs. Niida among them and I thought, "oh God..." Yes, my friend Mr. Niida had succumbed to the heat and had an attack but don't worry folks, it all turned out all right. Just for a minute there I thought the worst. The ambulance came quickly and this is where the great folks come into my story...seems like help came from everywhere when that medical emergency alert was announced by Bobby Osborne and various medical people and friends rushed forward to assist Mr. Niida in getting taken care of. It wasn't long before he was taken to a hospital about half an hour away and treated and later on that same night he was picked up and taken back to the festival.